Vowel quality vs. quantity

Serenus

Civis Illustris
Italians tend to be particularly touchy about evidence-based conjectures on the sound of ancient Latin whenever the conjectures differ from their pronunciation of Latin based on modern standard Italian. Plenty of them attack the use of the [k] sound in cī/ci/cē/ce/cae/coe (as opposed to the [tʃ] sound as in church), even though the use of <c> as in ca/co/cu already suggests the use of a single sound for it, something that phonetically still survives in the Sardinian language (which has [kentu] for centum), and also a number of other medieval Romance languages (notably some varieties of Aragonese and Mozarabic), late enough that the Irish would adopt it for their language too.

It should not be surprising they'd attack something like the differences in quality between long and short vowels (other than /a a:/), since Italian doesn't have something similar. It is also not surprising that the guy in one of the videos has an easier time accepting close e and open e in some form, since one of the standard Italian accents (the northern one) does have that distinction.

I would suggest ignoring Italians who cry "Allen is biased by English!", as I see the exact opposite, namely them being too influenced by Italian. For what it's worth my main language is Spanish.

It is also the case that most people who study Latin simply don't care about reconstructed pronunciation though. At most they try to render quantity (long and short vowels) some of the time, but for the most part, most people (other than Italians and adjacent Catholics) just kind of half-imitate a reconstructed pronunciation like Allen's using the phonetics of their own native language. Most Spanish speakers who study Latin don't distinguish the qualities of long i vs. most short i vs. short i before a vowel vs. short i before a labial (as explained by Allen and other linguists), but because they don't care to know and don't care to do it, not because they outright reject it. I think it's fine if they want to ignore the topic, because there are honestly more important topics, but that's not the same as rejecting it all on no grounds other than aesthetics.

I would like to emphasize what Hemo Rusticus said too, that there were differences in how different people actually pronounced Latin in the classical centuries, or how a single person would render something in spoken form depending on context. Consider, for example, the political move of Publius Clōdius Pulcher and his sister Quarta in the mid-1st c. BC, undergoing a fake adoption from a patrician family into a plebeian one, in which they didn't even bother taking the adopter's nōmen (Fonteius) but just changed the pronunciation of their original nōmen from a prestigious one (Claudius) to a rural one (Clōdius). This kind of thing only makes sense in the context of competing pronunciations between the more urban ae/au and the more rural ē/ō in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (see also paelex ~ pēlex). (Allen, in fact, discusses this competition in the diphthong section.)

It is true that not a lot has been published on classical-era (i.e. circa both 1st centuries) reconstructed pronunciation since the 1960s, but some has. I remember recently reading a paper from 2018 about word-final -m, which was fairly persuasive about its pronunciation as a nasalized [w] preceded by a short vowel in non-poetic careful speech/prose in the 1st c. AD (in poetry the convention was to drop it), and otherwise also a full [m] preceded by a short vowel, especially in the 3rd/4th centuries AD (and possibly the late 5th if we believe Priscian).

What there has been a fair bit of research on since the 1980s has been the pronunciation of spoken Latin focused on later stages (say, from the late 4th century onwards, into about the 11th) due to its relevance for the history of Romance. This is a lot less relevant to people interested in the classical era and Latin writings though.
 
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sparkyyy

New Member
I also apologize for bumping an old thread, but this question has also been bothering me for years.

When I speak to Latin scholars in the English-speaking world, it seems that Allen's Vox Latina is still gospel regarding the pronunciation of long and short vowels, and that is how I learned it starting from Wheelock (distinguishing quantity and quality).

However, when I spoke to some Latin teachers/students in Europe, particularly in Italy, they seem to deny/ignore the difference in quality and focus only on the quantity, and they criticized my pronunciation as being "Anglicized". When I mentioned Allen's work, they also criticized him of introducing an English-language bias into his analysis and that there was no difference in quality between long and short vowels. Is there any scholarship to back this up?

Here are some examples of people who subscribe to the no quality only quantity approach:

ScorpioMartianus

Metatron

I know everyone has strong opinons on this, but within the global academic discourse, is there still a debate over whether there was a quality distinction as well as a quantity distinction for long and short vowels in Classical Latin/Reconstructed Pronunciation.

Thank you
I don't really speak latin (although I have some mild interest in it) but especially Scorpio sounds really weird, almost reminds me of Americans doing the whole Super Mario shtick. Having the exact same quality sounds extremely unnatural to me.
 

Godmy

Sīmia Illustris
As long as I remember, I have no problem with Scorpio's pronunciation. Could you specify in detail what he pronounces wrong and where?

I wonder, @sparkyyy, on what criteria you are defining weird and unnatural when you aren't a native speaker? You literally cannot do that. Only a native speaker of Latin can use terms as weird and unnatural. You either follow the reconstructed model or you don't. And yes, it will feel weird and unnatural because that's how a language with phonetics which is not native to you SHOULD feel, since it's FOREIGN!
 
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Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
I have been involved in the spoken Latin community for a few years now. FWIW Scorpio's pronunciation sounds pretty good to me.
 

Issacus Divus

H₃rḗǵs h₁n̥dʰéri diwsú
Same. I've talked to him on Discord and such. He stays consistent with reconstruction.
 

Laurentius

Civis Illustris
Perhaps, since he mentions a Japanese character, sparkyyy picked up on the fact that Scorpio is influenced by Japanese.

Anyway @sparkyyy do you still find the way he speaks weird in a live video like this?
 

LCF

Dr. Freud
I don't really speak latin (although I have some mild interest in it) but especially Scorpio sounds really weird, almost reminds me of Americans doing the whole Super Mario shtick. Having the exact same quality sounds extremely unnatural to me.
You are right for the most part. Most who pretend to follow the reconstructed pronunciation sound weird and unnatural exactly because the pronunciation they choose to follow is unnatural and artificial. On top of that artificiality they bring the bias of their own language making shit even worse... The self professed gurus of correct latin pronunciation will argue their lungs out about this or that. Just ignore them and model your sounds based on Italians and be done with it.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
You are right for the most part. Most who pretend to follow the reconstructed pronunciation sound weird and unnatural exactly because the pronunciation they choose to follow is unnatural and artificial. On top of that artificiality they bring the bias of their own language making shit even worse... The self professed gurus of correct latin pronunciation will argue their lungs out about this or that. Just ignore them and model your sounds based on Italians and be done with it.
For what it's worth, I see nothing wrong if people want to keep using traditional pronunciations, say, the English one where imperator rhymes with English "later", and where animam/animum/(ego) animem are pronounced the same. Same goes if any learner wants to use new ones strongly biased towards their native language, say, Arabic or Mandarin or Japanese. Imagine pronouncing imperator as "emberaator" (IPA [embeˈɾɑːtˤoɾ]) with a typical Eastern Arabic accent. If nerds like me want to nerd out on historical linguistics and phonetics, let us be. I insist that people like me must also let others be.

What I attacked in my previous post was denying the linguistic evidence, which our nerdery is based on, with no argument at all except aesthetics. I have no idea what you guys mean by "unnatural", but I guess that's yet again an aesthetic call.
 

LCF

Dr. Freud
If nerds like me want to nerd out on historical linguistics and phonetics, let us be. I insist that people like me must also let others be.
I always let you be. And even nerd out with you from time to time.
 

Iáson

Cívis Illústris
Well, to me at any rate, it seems absurd to use a pronunciation of a language which is arbitrary or unhistorical, just because it sounds better to you or because you can't be bothered to learn any sounds other than those of your native tongue. It does make a difference, of course, if you're going to learn the language as a purely written construct to be occasionally cited or quoted, as opposed to making long Youtube videos about it or actually communicating with other people.
With Greek, it's a little bit different, of course, because the phonetics of the language haven't changed quite so drastically over the centuries, and many words and aspects of the grammar are little changed. Modern Greek pronunciation is a pretty good approximation to koine Greek, and in almost all cases better than the repugnant forms of Erasmian in use in English and American schools. But I still think it's worth trying to use the reconstructed pronunciation.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
@Iáson I guess it depends on how strongly a pronunciation norm is enforced within social groups. With modern languages, native speakers (especially in wealthier cultures) tend to judge you negatively if you have a very divergent accent, so that's a motivation to try to address that. But in the study of dead languages like Latin or Gothic, the norm is to not care much. Way much more importance is given to getting the grammar right, the word usage right, the spelling right (within certain conventions, not that spellings tend to be conserved much in most dead languages!). People like Godmy or the infamous Avitus who actively encourage others to study reconstructed pronunciations are more the exception than the norm.
 
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Hemo Rusticus

Jive Turkey
My attitude, which I'm sure has come across on other threads, is that: while spoken Latin revivalism seems like a monumental waste of time, specially in light of languages that don't need 'reviving' so much as they do 'resuscitating' (if you dig me), like, oh I dunno, Irish!?, it is nevertheless important even for the student who doesn't care about/put into use the correct, historically reconstructed pronunciation (like me) to know it well. If he didn't want a comprehensive knowledge such as that, why did he take Latin in the first place? 'cause he wanted a bunch of hocus-pocus to say at his neighborhood Halloween party?
 

pmp000

New Member
It is true that not a lot has been published on classical-era (i.e. circa both 1st centuries) reconstructed pronunciation since the 1960s, but some has. I remember recently reading a paper from 2018 about word-final -m, which was fairly persuasive about its pronunciation as a nasalized [w] preceded by a short vowel in non-poetic careful speech/prose in the 1st c. AD (in poetry the convention was to drop it), and otherwise also a full [m] preceded by a short vowel, especially in the 3rd/4th centuries AD (and possibly the late 5th if we believe Priscian).
That sounds very interesting!

By the way, if someone knows about recent research on latin pronunciation, I think it would be useful to create a thread to share references.
 

Serenus

Civis Illustris
That sounds very interesting!

By the way, if someone knows about recent research on latin pronunciation, I think it would be useful to create a thread to share references.
The paper I referred to was:
Zago, Anna. 2018. "Mytacism in Latin grammarians". In: Journal of Latin Linguistics, volume 17, issue 1 (2018). DOI: 10.1515/joll-2018-0002.

The thing is that in late antiquity, there was a pretty noticeable difference between the natural spoken dialects and a spelling pronunciation that tried to render at least some kind of sound for every letter. From comparative Romance linguistics we know the -m was gone in the dialects, likely by the 4th c. AD, except in monosyllables (sum, rem, cum, dum, in many dialects also habent > *an, faciunt > *fan, vādunt > *van), but grammarians of the 4th century still insist in using a sound for it, in fact various of them seem to like the full [m] (probably with nasalization of the previous vowel) more than the few we have from the 2nd century (!).

Relatedly, we know the sound of <h> was gone from the dialects by the 1st c. AD (it's very often absent in e.g. graffiti at Pompeii), but in the 4th c. AD Augustine of Hippo complains about people having too much scrupulousness for the sound of <h> if you try to speak correctly (Confessiones 1.18.29), also complaining about people who insist in distinguishing the accusative and ablative correctly in the same passage (we know the ablative was dead in the dialects by that time).
 
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Serenus

Civis Illustris
My attitude, which I'm sure has come across on other threads, is that: while spoken Latin revivalism seems like a monumental waste of time, specially in light of languages that don't need 'reviving' so much as they do 'resuscitating' (if you dig me), like, oh I dunno, Irish!?, it is nevertheless important even for the student who doesn't care about/put into use the correct, historically reconstructed pronunciation (like me) to know it well. If he didn't want a comprehensive knowledge such as that, why did he take Latin in the first place? 'cause he wanted a bunch of hocus-pocus to say at his neighborhood Halloween party?
There's probably some element of people being very unfamiliar with phonetics though. Sydney Allen does a great job trying to address such people and even gives pronunciation recommendations in which he gets rid of details of his reconstruction, showing even he doesn't expect people to care much about the topic. He reconstructs three sounds for short "i" as I mentioned above (cito [ɪ], noxius [ i], maximus [ʏ ~ ʉ]), but recommends just using [ɪ].

I've never understood the argument about putting more energy into reviving minority moribund languages than something like Latin though. The people who are interested in the latter are not necessarily interested in the former. By all means you may encourage people to study minority languages to keep currently moribund languages alive, but that applies as much to Latin learners and as to people who study e.g. Spanish or who don't study any languages. Often the key to reviving language has more to do with the economic situation of the native speakers at any rate, besides an assortment of hairy political issues (not unrelated to economics). There is also something to be said about isolation, which has only been getting harder in recent decades (Galician and Catalan are strongest in rural areas, and it doesn't matter that Catalonia is in a much better economic situation than Galicia).
 
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Quasus

Civis Illustris
Sydney Allen does a great job trying to address such people and even gives pronunciation recommendations in which he gets rid of details of his reconstruction, but it shows even he doesn't expect people to care much about the topic. He reconstructs three sounds for short "i" as I mentioned above (cito [ɪ], noxius [ i], maximus [ʏ ~ ʉ]), but recommends just using [ɪ].
Yes! For what it’s worth, I’ve always regarded it as a practical guide with plausible explanations rather than a fundamental scholar work.

And speaking of practice, any foreign student has an accent. If you’re not Italian, you’ll have an accent in Italian. If you’re not an educated Cicero’s contemporary, you’ll have a (wrong) accent in Latin, even if you think you have incorporated all known subtleties in your speech. Of course, there’s no way to know, but it’s safe to postulate.

I believe if one distinguishes the phonemes, he already does a great job.

As for the practical reconstructed pronunciation, I don’t see how it’s difficult or unnatural per se, given that Allen even argues for a stress accent. Is it really so different from the pronunciation of the Italian language? A bit more vowels, a bit less consonants.
 

Quasus

Civis Illustris
I'm still puzzled by the reference to Irish. Suppose, I learn some Irish, even though I see no reason to. Even suppose that a few thousand students over the world learn B2 Irish. I don't see how this will motivate native Irish speakers to pass along the language to their children. I'd rather suppose that native Irish speakers don't care about myself and my language learning just as I don't care about them.
 

Hemo Rusticus

Jive Turkey
Quasus dixit:
Suppose, I learn some Irish, even though I see no reason to.
Well, you shouldn't do that in the first place. If you can't get behind the notion that 'such-and-such is important in and of itself' (which is presumably what you thought of Latin when you learned it), then don't bother learning it.
I'd rather suppose that native Irish speakers don't care about myself and my language learning just as I don't care about them.
This is undoubtedly the case, but Irish is the language 'in need', not Russian, not Portuguese, and certainly not Latin.
 

Hemo Rusticus

Jive Turkey
Quasus dixit:
And speaking of practice, any foreign student has an accent. If you’re not Italian, you’ll have an accent in Italian. If you’re not an educated Cicero’s contemporary, you’ll have a (wrong) accent in Latin, even if you think you have incorporated all known subtleties in your speech.
That's an important and useful point, but the truth of the matter is: with an extraordinary amount of practice, even a student (non-native) can speak impeccable Italian.

I knew this guy Oleg who told me about the good old Soviet spy days, and how they drilled this friend of his until he was utterly indistinguishable from a native speaker of American English. Of course, I have only his word in this example to go on, but it's thrilling to think about.
:hiding: :2pistols:
 
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